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This startup just launched a credit card rewards program for renters

Bilt aims to help you earn points and boost your credit every time you pay your rent.

- 03:34

As housing prices continued to surge across the US during the past year, renters faced their own particular challenges, too. Now, one startup has set its sights on helping them squeeze more value out of their monthly payments. 

Rent is the largest recurring expense for millions of Americans -- the median asking rent for vacant units was $1,226 per month in Q1, according to the Census Bureau -- yet it's an expenditure that doesn't traditionally earn rewards. Many landlords simply do not accept credit payments or may charge a considerable processing fee -- between 2% and 3%, according to Bankrate -- to discourage the practice. As a result, most renters aren't eligible to earn credit card rewards on their most significant monthly expense. Likewise, landlords typically don't report to the three major credit bureaus, which means that renters don't have the same opportunity to build their credit that homeowners do by paying a mortgage.

Bilt has partnered with some of the largest apartment owners and operators in the US, including the Blackstone Group, The Related Companies, Equity Residential, Cushman & Wakefield and AvalonBay Communities. Renters who live in the partnership's approximately 2 million apartments will now be eligible to earn rewards on rent payments. There are approximately 43 million rental households in the US, according to a 2017 report published by Harvard University. 

Bilt was founded by Ankur Jain, a former VP of product for Tinder, who is currently the CEO of Kairos, a portfolio of millennial-focused brands working on financial, housing and healthcare issues. CNET spoke with him about how Bilt's program works. 

Today, renters who live in one of the 2 million Bilt Alliance Properties can sign up for the Bilt Rewards loyalty program and earn points every time they pay rent via Bilt's app or Mastercard. The Bilt Mastercard can also be used to pay rent to landlords outside of the network. 

If your landlord does not currently accept rent payment via a credit card, you can pay using Bilt's app and Mastercard; the company will charge your card and mail a physical rent check to your landlord. Bilt recommends submitting your rent payment at least five business days in advance to ensure your check arrives on time, however -- which could be a deal-breaker for some tenants. The company also offers the BiltProtect service, which pulls rent payments directly from a linked bank account, giving you an alternative way to earn reward points.

If your landlord presently accepts credit card payments, you can swipe the Bilt Mastercard to pay your rent. There aren't any additional processing fees or surcharges -- but the card features a standard APR range (between 15% and 27% annually), there are late fees and you need to pay off your entire balance before swiping it again for next month's rent. The rewards system also isn't particularly lucrative: You need to hit certain spending thresholds on nonrent purchases to earn just 1% back on your rent.

The other primary selling point is that Bilt reports on-time payments to credit bureaus. This could help you build your credit score over time, assuming your other accounts remain in good standing, too. 

Bilt's rewards program is based on your spending levels, with rent and other purchases eligible for rewards. CNET's initial analysis is that travel rewards earn the highest maximum value, with points transferring at a 1:1 ratio to affiliate partners including American Airlines AAdvantage, AirFrance/KLM, Virgin Atlantic, Hyatt and more. But rewards points can also be redeemed for fitness classes, a curated collection of art, rental credits, cash back or put toward a down payment once you're ready to buy a home. While this rewards down-payment program is the first of its kind, it can take several decades to earn substantial savings through rent rewards alone.

You can now sign up to be added to Bilt's waitlist; the company will notify you by email when the application process opens.